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New Y. coordinator passes first test with Cougar fans

Lance Reynolds replaces Norm Chow as Education Week football speaker

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PROVO — Ten days before the season-opener against defending national champion Florida State, BYU's Lance Reynolds faced his first major challenge as the new offensive coordinator — an auditorium full of visitors on Wednesday afternoon.

These weren't just any visitors, either. They were football-crazed Cougar fans attending Education Week.

"I hope I'm ready to take on this hostile crowd," Reynolds joked as he made his way to the podium to address the assembled throng.

After serving 17 years in relative anonymity on BYU's coaching staff, having spent almost all of those seasons as a running backs coach, Reynolds is now squarely in the spotlight. In February, he replaced Norm Chow, who left Provo for the same job title and greener (as in money) pastures at North Carolina State. Chow, who has called every offensive play since 1982, was the lightning rod for criticism whenever the Cougars' famed offense struggled.

Now, it's Reynolds' turn to be in the hot seat.

And what a year to take over. The Cougars have no experience at quarterback and they haven't yet decided which of two candidates is going to start. And there is that matter of opening the season with Florida State, which might as well be considered a National Football League farm team.

For all those reasons, and more, a large group showed up for his class — which Chow taught for years during Education Week — called "Intricacies of the BYU Offense."

But Reynolds didn't delve too much into the technical stuff. Instead, he figured an introduction was in order. He shared amusing anecdotes about himself and his life. He told about how he chose to play at BYU out of Granite High School and was converted from a defensive noseguard/running back into an offensive lineman. He talked about how he was one of the first Cougar players to go on an LDS Church mission AND play football afterward.

"At that time, you either did one or the other," he said. "When I was trying to decide if I should go on a mission, I had a general authority ask me, Why can't you do both?'" So he did. He returned to become an all-conference tackle. Since that time, hundreds of BYU athletes have proven over and over again that it is possible to go on a mission and come back and be successful in sports.

But his playing career didn't end there. He played for the Pittsburgh Steelers as an NFL rookie (with teammates like Terry Bradshaw and Lynn Swann). Then he seriously injured his knee playing church basketball during the off-season. THAT'S what ended his playing career.

Coach LaVell Edwards convinced Reynolds that coaching was his true calling in life and he decided to give it a try.

Although he is new to the offensive coordinator position, Reynolds has had involvement in some of BYU's greatest football moments. He was a graduate assistant when the Cougars won the 1980 "Miracle Bowl." After spending assistant coaching stints at Snow College and Ricks, he joined the staff as a full time coach in 1984, the year of the Cougars' national championship. And he watched the development of quarterback Ty Detmer, from skinny high school kid to Heisman Trophy winner.

Reynolds recalled one of Detmer's first practices, when the QB lofted a pass over the middle, making a receiver vulnerable to a vicious hit from a roaming linebacker or safety. The receiver complained to Detmer about it. "Ty didn't miss a beat," Reynolds said. "He turned right around and said to him, If you're scared, don't play.'"

That's the kind of attitude, Reynolds said, players should have toward the game. "Ty had relentless confidence," he explained, "and that's what we'd like to instill in all our quarterbacks."

And Reynolds took time to answer tough questions from the fans, such as Who's Going To Start At Quarterback? (Answer: "We're waiting for one guy to stand out"). After the class ended, Reynolds spent about 20 minutes chatting with fans and fielding even more questions. All in all, he made quite an impression.

"He's very personable," said Nolan Jamison of Provo, who attended the class. "He presented (his talk) with humor. He was very informative and is certainly knowledgeable. Some fresh blood might be good."

For now, not long before BYU's first snap under his watch as offensive coordinator, Reynolds has won some fans. But that may continue only as long as he wins games — as Chow could attest.

All in all, Reynolds' Education Week debut was a resounding success. If only his team can fare as well against Florida State.

E-MAIL: jeffc@desnews.com